When you’re looking for a used car, you might not think about checking for flood damage, since there’s not a lot of severe flooding in Milwaukee. However, cars sold here come from all over the country, so check for flood damage before you buy. Shady sellers may not divulge the car’s history.
According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, flood-damaged cars can be unreliable and sellers have an arsenal of supplies and tactics to dress up a used car, even it if has been severely damaged. Rebuilders may be able to hide most of the cosmetic damage done by floods, but it’s difficult to completely repair an engine after it has been flooded.
Here are some tips to help you determine if a car is flood damaged:
- Carefully inspect the vehicle. Check the glove compartment, trunk, seats and dashboard for signs of rust, mud or water damage. Signs of water damage could include water stains; sand under the carpet, floor mats and dashboard; mildew; faded, stained or discolored upholstery, seatbelts or carpeting; or loose-fitting carpet that does not match the interior color. Pay attention if there is fogging inside the headlights, taillights and gauges, as they can trap moisture. Also check all gauges on the dashboard to make sure they are working properly – and accurately.
- Look for rust. Rust can be a sign of water damage and it’s hard to conceal. Internal rust is a red flag because it doesn’t happen through normal wear and tear.
- Conduct a smell test. According to the DMV, the most obvious signs of flood damage are smell and watermarks. If there’s a damp, mildew-like scent, be suspicious of where the car has been. The smell may be strongest if the car has been sitting with its windows closed for a while. Also, be suspicious if there is a strong scent of cleaning products such as bleach or car fresheners, which may be used to mask the mold scent.
- Take the car to a mechanic. Before buying a used car, have an experienced and trustworthy mechanic look it over for you. Ask the mechanic to inspect the mechanical and electrical components and any systems that hold fluids, and to look specifically for water damage.
- Ask to see a Carfax report and the title. Check the date and the place of transfer to see if the car came from a flood-damaged state. You will also want to compare the odometer reading and check if the title is stamped with the word “salvage.” If the car’s history seems suspicious, ask the dealer or individual directly if the car has been damaged by floodwater.
- Report fraud. If you suspect a car dealer is knowingly selling a flood-damaged car or a salvaged car as a used car in “good condition,” contact your auto insurance company and local police department, and report it to the BBB. You can file a complaint at bbb.org or report it to BBB Scam Tracker at org/scamtracker, which could help alert others to a rip-off.